GREEN BAY – The list of high-stakes, late-season, Packers-Bears games just in the last decade is a pretty good one.
In 2010, the Bears had already won the NFC North but still played their starters in an effort to keep the Packers out of the playoffs, who needed to win to secure a wild-card spot. We all know how that turned out.
Two years later, in Week 15, the Packers were 9-4, the Bears 8-5, and the division title was firmly in the balance. Though not as definitively as in 2013, when, thanks to a post-Thanksgiving Lions collapse, it was winner-take-all for the NFC North in Week 17, with the loser’s season ending.
Then came 2016, when the Bears were playing out the string but the Packers were in the midst of their “run the table” stretch. An Aaron Rodgers bomb, a Mason Crosby kick, and the Packers’ quest continued.
You get the idea.
Sunday’s clash at Soldier Field gets added to the late-season rivalry lore with so much, once again, on the line for both teams. Here’s the synopsis, one team at a time:
For the Packers (5-7-1), a win would keep their playoff hopes alive, hopes that were seemingly dead two weeks ago. But a number of other games have gone Green Bay’s way, and a win over the Bears plus a little more help would take a postseason berth under interim head coach Joe Philbin from a pipe dream to potential reality.
In a nutshell, in order to get the NFC’s sixth seed, the Packers need to win out, have three teams (Washington, Philadelphia, Carolina) lose one more game each, and have one team (Minnesota) lose two more contests.
It’s not all that far-fetched, given the quarterback injuries in Washington and Philly, Carolina’s five-game losing streak (with two of three remaining games against the currently top-seeded Saints), and Minnesota’s offensive turmoil that came to a head with a change at offensive coordinator this week.
Could it all fall into place for the Packers? Crazy things have happened before.
“Maybe not as crazy as this would be, but pretty crazy,” Rodgers said this week.
But it all starts with beating the Bears before anything on the other scoreboards matters. If the Packers lose this game, the only way they stay even mathematically alive in the playoff hunt is if the Vikings lose as well. Otherwise, that’s it.
For the Bears (9-4), they’re looking to clinch their first NFC North crown since 2010, which also happens to be their last postseason appearance. A win over their archrivals would do it. But that’s not all.
Their win last week over the Rams kept the Bears in the hunt for a top-two seed and first-round bye in the NFC. If they win out, two losses by either the Rams or Saints would give the Bears a bye, because they’d have the head-to-head tiebreaker over L.A. and/or the conference-record tiebreaker over New Orleans.
But Chicago is taking it one step at a time, and given Green Bay’s recent dominance in this series – the Packers have won 14 of 16 games since the Bears last beat them at Soldier Field, in Week 3 of 2010 – it would be extra special for the Bears to clinch a division title against their oldest and most storied rival.
“Yeah, definitely,” Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller said. “Just that rivalry game, it would mean a lot.”
New Bears head coach Matt Nagy claimed earlier this week not to be aware of the recent history in the series, nor Green Bay’s eight-game winning streak at Soldier Field that dates back to the 2010 NFC title game.
True or not, everyone else around him is well-aware, with numerous headlines in Chicago this week claiming the Bears can “strike a blow” and “exorcise demons” in what’s been a “one-sided rivalry.”
Again, you get the idea.
It’s Packers-Bears, in December, with a lot on the line. Just as it should be.